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Invisible Mailbag: Dallas Stars Questions You Haven’t Asked, Yet

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It’s impossible to do Normal Sports right now, so let’s try for abnormal

New York Rangers v Dallas Stars Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

And the ‘80s song, yeah, how did it go?

When they said this is the beginning of the best years, even though

False

***

The quandary perists: Everything is rough right now, so we want sports to take our minds off the rough stuff. On the other hand, real people have to play those sports, and with a 6% infection rate among NHLers who have returned to training camps so far, it’s hard to feel good about continuing to cheer on players who will be knowingly saddling themselves with that kind of risk.

Should we be forcing sports to come back in the midst of spiking infection rates in a lot of parts of the country? I mean...probably not, right? But then, the players are the ones who have to vote on this, and it seems likely that Artemi Panarin isn’t the only big name a bit reticent to jump into the veritable petri dish with a CBA negotiation looming at the same time.

All that to say: let’s do a mailbag! Your questions, my answers, and our collective joy as we bask in whatever hockey is, right now.

Here’s the thing, though: you probably would just ask dumb questions. And frankly, I’m a busy guy. If you think I have time to come up with a cute response to your droll “IS A CALZONE A HOT DOG” queries, then buddy, you have another thing coming. There is horrible Texas weather to enjoy with nobody else within six feet of me, and you can bet that’s gonna take priority over your likely lame lines of inquiry.

So after thinking about it for like, seven minutes (I checked a couple other websites somewhere in there too because I got bored), I decided to go ahead and just ask the questions myself. You get Dallas Stars Content, and I don’t have to suffer foolishness. It’s better this way, trust me.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who submitted their questions! They were all in a tie for second-best, after my questions, which were first. Also, I didn’t ask you to send in questions. Have you even been reading?

Q: Could the Stars make it out of the round-robin phase with home-ice advantage all the way through the playoffs?

Yes. Did you really not know that? Why are you wasting my time with this.

Q: Didn’t you come up with the questions?

Shut up.

Q: Who will the Stars protect in the expansion draft?

All of their good players. They don’t have, like 12 superstars. They’ll be fine.

Q: How about Stephen Johns, eh? That guy is pretty amazing.

You answered your own question. Albeit correctly.

Q: Yes, but what if Julius Honka-

NO.

Q: Fine. Who will coach the team next year?

Either Rick Bowness or someone else who will receive exactly the same amount of criticism as Rick Bowness did this year if Seguin, Radulov, Benn, and Klingberg all have rough seasons again.

Q: Who would be the ideal playoff opponent for the Stars?

Finally, a real question. In descending order of preference, the Stars would probably like to face the Coyotes, Flames, Canucks, or Oilers. All of the other teams in the Central seem likely to clobber the Stars if they haven’t drastically improved since March.

Chicago is still awful, but I don’t think anyone actually wants to face them, because Chicago is insufferable. At least the fans wouldn’t be in the arena, though.

Q: Should Anton Khudobin start over Ben Bishop for some or all of the games?

I don’t know.

Q: That’s not a very helpful answer.

And that wasn’t a question, dingus. But yeah, Khudobin was amazing this year, and he’s definitely the type of goalie you love to have when you need him. But given how Playoff Hockey Thinking works, the Stars will probably ride Bishop until they can’t ride him no more. Coaches are risk-averse, and starting your putative backup in a series is just begging for people to second-guess you if things go wrong. Not to mention it’ll tick off your starter, too. So if Bishop lays an egg or two? Yeah, I think that’s the scenario when you might see Khudobin come in to save a series. But I think Bishop would be back to start the next series, if it got that far.

Q: What’s wrong with Klingberg?

He dealt with injuries earlier in the season, so I’m willing to believe that one of the better defensemen in the game probably didn’t voluntarily forget how to hockey all of a sudden.

Maybe some of it was trying too hard with Miro Heiskanen now on the scene. Maybe he tried to change his game when the team’s scoring was slumping. Maybe his lower-body injury was more troublesome than we thought, or maybe he had other injuries lingering we don’t know about. In any case, I’ll preemptively answer the “playoff X factor?” question with this: John Klingberg is the most important player for this team’s offense. If he can hit the reset button and come out strong, Dallas looks a good bit tougher than they did late-wintertime.

Q: Dallas might benefit more than almost any other team from the layoff, right?

In the sense that Dallas are an old bunch of players, relatively speaking, yes. But that cuts both ways, and Roman Polak mentioned in his comments a couple weeks back. Older players sometimes feel like they need a longer tune-up period. I guess we’ll see what this looks like come the round-robin tournament, but I’m prepared to be slightly optimistic about their chances to come out stronger than they left. Bold statement for a team last seen riding the crest of a six-game losing streak, I know.

Q: This is gonna be really weird if/when hockey starts back up, isn’t it?

If you’ve watched the English Premier League since its return, you probably have a decent sense of what this will be like. The players will still play hard, but you won’t quite have the same euphoria after goals, just as you won’t feel quite the tension you otherwise might when plays start to come together in front of the net and the crowd grows louder alongside the action.

The really weird part, though, will be when players start missing games because of positive COVID-19 tests and the team can’t legally tell fans that. That’ll be fun, talking about a virulent disease like it’s a fluke of our fantasy sports roster or something. Definitely a sign things are being Done Properly, for sure. Mmhmm.

Q: If you ask a friend what they had for dinner, will they lie 70% of the time?

More like 85-90%, but yeah. Assuming: 1. The friend in question is “me” and, 2. Omitting “a pack of licorice at 4pm” from my “quinoa salad with black beans” dinner description counts as lying.

Q: Hey, wait. Roman Polak might be done playing for the Stars? What gives? That’s a little weird, eh?

You are catching onto this whole thing pretty quickly, aren’t you? Yeah, a player who could see his playing time getting potentially slashed even further with the playoffs looming decided that his loyalty to the team ranked somewhere just under “would I rather shelter at home with my family during a global pandemic?” Hard to begrudge anyone that.

But given how much ink has been spilled about Polak’s deployment over younger players with higher potential in the past, I suppose this was alwayst the way this was going to end: with Roman Polak staying at home.

Q: What’s with all of the politicization in sports and stuff now? Why can’t players and writers and teams just stick to sports instead of making all these statements about things having nothing to do with hockey?

I wish we lived in a world where we all had the privilege to just enjoy sports and act like they happened in a vacuum. It would be like going to the video arcade or something, just checking out of the daily grind for a couple hours and investing ourselves (and our money) in a figurative struggle that doesn’t really matter. Sometimes that’s nice, right? Just kicking up our feet and watching hockey, without another care in the world.

Escapism is fine, so far as it goes. But remember that seen in The Return of the King where Pippin sings a song at Denethor’s behest while Faramir leads a doomed charge to recapture an overrun citadel?

There is, I think, wisdom in knowing when one’s own pleasure (at a good meal, at a song) becomes a denial of the suffering around us. When escapism turns into grotesquely lavish ignorance.

I remember after 9/11, how baseball teams started having someone sing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch. There was some collective desire to pull together as a country before singing the lighthearted Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” It was, in part, a recognition that one couldn’t just move on and get back to frivolous pleasures in the face of great tragedy. I don’t say this to defend that choice—frankly, I tired of the song quickly, for multiple reasons—but to point out that team statements and gestures during times of suffering are hardly unprecedented. Sports have been a platform for not-sports for decades, particularly when times grow tragic.

That’s a part of why these things are happening, I think. There is a recognition that certain specific communities are suffering beyond what any of us ought to tolerate in a broken world. Certainly there have been military appreciation nights for decades now, even during times when the U.S. military was participating in controversial conflicts across the globe. Sports have never been free from using their platform to spread social messages—how many of us have seen clips of athletes promoting everything from recycling to anti-bullying campaigns on the big board at the stadium?

So if you don’t particularly love the phrasing in a certain statement for whatever reason, then you are free to disagree with it. But to pretend as if sports are some sanctified ground of apolitical harmony is to have never attended a Cowboys, Stars, Mavericks, or Rangers game in the last 20 years.

People pay attention to sports. There’s a reason the CDC is talking about asking sports stars to help spread the word about wearing masks and being wise with one’s social actions: people listen to people they admire. If you don’t like the message every time, that’s fine; but the sports are like a Saturday morning cartoon in the ‘90s: something created to pull in a consumer base in order to sell commercial interests that will, ultimately, bring in tons of money. The human struggles within them are real, but they aren’t an altruistic endeavor by any stretch of the imagination. Most sports venues are just casinos with different decor, except they have athletes instead of slot machines. They’ve never been anything else.

Or, I mean, sports are like life, and friendship, and love, and stuff. Sorry, I’ll write something nice and feel-goody like that next time the Stars win.

Q: Are you done pontificating now?

Never, unless someone pays me to stop.

Q: ...You’re kind of a bummer.

That’s not a question!

Q: ...

Are we done here?

Q: No, wait! Uh, one last Bold Prediction: If the Stars had lost to Edmonton and slipped into the play-in round, should we, on some level, have wanted them to lose in order to get Alexis Lafrenière?

I think you’re asking me if the Stars would be better off with a 12.5% chance of winning the Team E Powerball Sweepstakes than with their current chances of winning a Cup, right?

Q: Sort of. Obivously they don’t have a 12.5% chance of winning it all, but maybe, like, just making the Stanley Cup Final? Winning the Western Conference would be good enough to merit missing out on This New Kid People Are Talking About, right?

I mean, it’s a subjective question, but I’ll bite. Yeah, I think the Stars we saw this year probably don’t excite me that much (or most anyone that much), but getting knocked out of the playoffs—even the Weird COVID playoffs—is always such a bummer. I think I’d almost always, as a fan, take the playoffs over a draft lottery. Unless you’re an obviously not-gonna like Nashville or Columbus, I think it’s perfectly fine to say you want to ride that NHL playoff motorcycle out of the proverbial helicopter, lottery be damned. There’s nothing like playoff hockey, so if the players are going to accept the risks and make a meal of this whole thing, then we might as well ask for the USDA Prime cut, right?

Q: Are you done yet?

Yeah.

Q: Good, because it’s MY turn to answer the questions. Go on, ask me.

Why does my mind do this to me?

Q: Oh, that’s easy. You see, back in those days, rich men would ride around in Zeppelins, dropping coins on people, and one day I seen J.D. Rockefeller flying by. So I run out of the house with a big washtub and... hey! Where are you going?